Mar 2006

Travel on the quiet road

Hallo there!

Welcome to my new blog. I’ve already posted a few things; written while I was setting up this place; but this is the official Inaugural Post.

How’s it going so far? Well. It’s probably a bit early to say I guess.

Dublin certainly decided to welcome me in style. Within four days of my arrival, the city erupted into violence. The worst rioting in recent memory.

There has been condemnation from across the political spectrum of the violent clashes between protestors and gardaí in Dublin city centre this afternoon.

The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, said it appeared that dissident republican elements, as well as local people, were responsible for the disturbances.

Labour leader, Pat Rabbitte, said the Justice Minister, Michael McDowell, should make a public statement, based on a garda report, about whether reasonable steps were taken to ensure that this kind of mayhem could not be created.

Meanwhile, Mr McDowell has condemned today’s protests. He said the riots were ‘inexcusable’ and ‘an organised vicious attempt to discredit democratic protest’.

However, a small group of ex-girlfriends of new Dublin resident, Jim Bliss, sympathised with the rioters insisting that they ‘knew exactly how they felt’. They commended the city for exercising ‘incredible restraint’ in suffering almost an entire week without an outburst of some kind.

For my overseas readers, let me explain a little of the terminology used in that news item, and introduce some of the participants. Although, can I please remind everyone that this blog will be a process of discovery. I’m new here myself (well, it’s been over two decades since I last spent any length of time in Dublin… and that was when I was twelve years old). And I have no idea who either Michael McDowell or Pat Rabbitte (good name though) are. Nor do I know who “Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny” is (the other prominent politician mentioned in the original news article).

Dublin snow

Day 7: View from bedroom window

But I do know who Bertie Ahern is. He’s The Taoiseach (pronounced ‘Tea-Shock’). That’s Irish for “leader of the country”. It’s a prime-minister-type position rather than a “president” kind of thing. Bertie is leader of the Fianna Fail political party who have a majority of seats in parliament (actually, because Ireland has a more representative electoral system than, say, the UK; Fianna Fail don’t have an absolute majority and are the largest party in a coalition government. I think.)

Bertie has cultivated a “man of the people” political persona. How genuine that is, I have no idea. But I’m suspicious of people who wield a lot of power and pretend to be “just one of the lads”. Power over others is a strange thing. And one of the first changes it wroughts is to stop a person from being “just one of the lads”.

Hopefully I’ll know a little bit more about all this by Tuesday… apparently the flagship political debate show (the Irish equivalent of Question Time) is called Questions and Answers and is broadcast on Monday night. I expect it to be equal parts confusing, enlightening and infuriating.

Also, to clear up the other potentially confusing term… in case you aren’t already aware, the police are called gardaí­ here in Ireland. The singular is garda.

It’s as gaeilge ( “in Irish” ).

As Gaeilge

The Irish have a peculiar relationship with the native language. It was systematically discouraged during periods of British occupation, sometimes to the point of active persecution of those who spoke it. This had two results. Firstly it succeeded in almost killing it off completely. There are now only a few isolated spots in the west of the country where Irish is the first language. Secondly, it succeeded in making it exceedingly precious in the national psyche.

So every schoolchild in Ireland learns Irish as a second language. All of the roadsigns are bilingual. The common names of institutions (the main parliament is the Dáil) and organisations (the gardaí) are often Irish words, and official documents are all printed in both languages.

This is despite the fact that almost every schoolchild in Ireland stops learning Irish after the age at which it’s compulsory, and has forgotten all but a smattering by the time they reach adulthood. So with the exception of a handful of people living in the far west, fifty percent of everything the government produces is all but indecipherable to the public.

Quite aside from the waste of paper… The symbolism of the thing!

What now?

Well I’ve been in Dublin for almost two weeks now, and I still feel very much like a visitor. I’m beginning to wonder whether that’s not just my general feeling about planet earth, rather than any specific part of it.

I’ve not really ventured much beyond the confines of my new house just yet. But now that I’m completely unpacked and moved-in, and the loose ends from England are all being tied up one by one, I expect I’ll be discovering a little more about my new / old home town.

Hopefully this voyage of discovery will generate some interesting stuff to write about. If it doesn’t I can always continue droning on about peak oil and sustainability, or maybe just make some stuff up.

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